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Hemphill, Stephanie. Your own, Sylvia; a verse portrait of Sylvia Plath.

HEMPHILL, Stephanie. Your own, Sylvia; a verse portrait of Sylvia Plath. Random House, Knopf. 272p. e2007. 978-0-375-83799-9. $15.99. S

One can only be in awe of an author who decides to write the story of Sylvia Plath's life "based on real events" but fictionalized in poems. As the author makes clear in her first poem, Plath is a towering figure in modern poetry, a moon among lesser stars, perhaps even the sun itself; thus, to imitate Plath's form to tell her story could be bold-hearted courage, the sincerest form of flattery, or foolhardiness; perhaps all three by turns. Writing such a book is certainly a way to explore Plath's journey and the meanings behind her poems. The different poems are written from the points of view of future readers, and people who knew her: relatives, neighbors, teachers, doctors, bosses, friends, and lovers. Each poem is presumably based on some fragment of knowledge at least partially documented. The end result is a portrait of a complex woman misunderstood by most of those around her, beset by the customary requirements of beautiful women in the 1950s; a genius, abandoned by the man she obsessively loved after previously cutting a swath through the hearts of any number of would-be swains.

One wonders what Plath's children think of all this mythologizing of their mother. Yet, Hemphill is clearly fascinated by the mysteries of Plath's life and poetry. Her own poetry about Plath is certainly more accessible than Plath's poems about Plath. This may be an excellent book to interest young women in poetry, particularly confessional poetry, and in questions of perception raised by the author's use of many voices to tell Plath's story.

S--Recommended for senior high school students.

Myrna Marler, Assoc. Prof. of English, BYU, Laie, HI
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Author:Marler, Myrna
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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